He tells me "'it's complicated" with a shrug and a smile. It's his response to the unasked question about his marriage. I get it. Life is complicated. Relationships are complicated. None of us would disagree with that. But, I don't have to accept it. This guy is just another in a stream of men I've talked to or met lately who are married. They're on dating sites, all in their late 50s and looking for a woman to "date." Apparently "it's complicated" is meant to be a sufficient explanation for the apparent contradiction of being married yet looking for a woman to "date." It has become the adult version of "the dog ate my homework." What they're really saying is I don't want to address my issues yet and I want you to believe that I would change things if I could. In reality I'm too afraid, too lazy, too greedy or too overwhelmed to get a divorce.
One such man, we'll call him Bob, went to elaborate lengths to lie about his status, even using the wrong hometown in his online dating profile. It took a little detective work to figure out what was going on and when I asked if he was married, he uttered those words, "It's complicated," followed quickly by, "we lead separate lives." What he wanted was a woman who would travel with him, entertain him in her town (and bed) and accept the fact that he was married.
These men (and the women who do the same thing) want a relationship, of sorts, to suit their needs. When did it become acceptable to just say it's complicated and expect a potential partner to accept that? It's not an answer and it's not a way to start a new relationship, not one that's built on honesty and open communication. How do you build trust with a person who can't or won't tell the truth? This is what Bob wasn't willing to say: I'm married and unwilling to make a change. And because I have needs I want a woman who isn't going to care, or notice, that I'm only interested in getting my needs met. I don't really care about her personal happiness.
That's really what it's all about, isn't it?
So what do you say to the man who tells you it's complicated? He's using that as a way of putting a buffer between his real life and the story he wants you to accept. We aren't supposed to probe, we're supposed to feel sorry for him and assume there is something sad or terribly difficult about his life that he just can't talk about. To accept the "it's complicated" statement at face value sets up a barrier to establishing the kind of deeper connection many of us are looking for with a partner.
The 50-plus-year-old who feels stuck in his or her marriage is unlikely to make a significant change at this point in his life. And, yes there are legitimate concerns about splitting assets and starting over, upsetting the children, etc... Does that mean we accept relationships under these conditions? Maybe. But, I'm not willing to go there.
My response to Bob was a bit of one-upmanship. I get "it's complicated"; I divorced a man in a wheelchair. You can't use that excuse with me. I took big risks in admitting that my marriage wasn't working. It was very complicated. But I had to do what I thought was best for me. My teenaged children understood and accepted my decision. And, though we've been divorced for over seven years, I still help take care of my ex-husband.
I shared my story with him. He fumbled a bit, said what a good woman I was, or something like that and went right back to pleading his case. I refused to meet him for a friendly coffee. It felt like a ploy to get me in a position where he could try to persuade me in real time. I could be flattered that he fought so hard to win me over. And, I would be if I had any respect for him.
There are plenty of divorced men and women out there who have gone through complicated, often heart-breaking divorces. Like me, they didn't choose divorce on a whim or decide the newer model might look better on their arm. They took a painful road to freedom, by choice or necessity. I know how incredibly complicated it was and I respect them for taking the more honest and difficult option. So, gentlemen, here's my simple, uncomplicated request: don't come knocking at my door if you're still married. I'm not interested.